Thursday, October 28, 2021

Boardroom coup drama tears law society apart

The Law Society of Botswana (LSB) is embroiled in a messy boardroom coup drama as scores of lawyers and a number of council members conspire to oust the society’s Executive Secretary, Tebogo Moipolai ÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.

A divided LSB council, with one faction led by Chairman Kgalalelo Monthe and another by Deputy Chairman Onalethata Kambai met yesterday (Saturday) to discuss the controversial renewal of Moipolai’s contract in a meeting that threatened to collapse the council.

Moipolai has from 2009 presided over what is believed to be the most dynamic law society in Botswana’s history. A clutch of confidential documents and internal e-mail correspondence between LSB council members reveals he led the society to the ground breaking Motumise judgement; was instrumental in securing two plots for the society; helped set up Babueledi Insurance brokers; insured that the Fidelity Fund which was moribund started paying claims; pushed the society’s balance sheet to robust growth; fought for the Amendment of the Legal practitioners Act and ensured that the Disciplinary Committee which was moribund became active.

While this endeared him to a section of the legal fraternity and progressive forces in the civil society, it also earned him enemies at the government enclave, within the judiciary and among a section of legal practitioners who loath regulation.

Documents passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that as Moipolai’s contract comes up for renewal on March 31st; his detractors are already mobilizing to oust him.

Plot hatched

E ÔÇô mail correspondence passed to the Sunday Standard suggests that the LSB council first went into a tail spin after Moipolai complained to the council that one of the council members was conspiring with stuff to subvert his authority.

It emerges in the internal council e-mail correspondence that during the council meeting where the complaint was tabled, the council member charged that he regarded Moipolai’s complaint “as a political fight and he is going to take the fight to the ES (Executive Secretary) and sue him for defamation.”

A few days later, the council member informed the council that he had received a sexual harassment claim against Moipolai. The LSB council immediately appointed a task team to investigate the allegations against Moipolai. Before the team could conclude their investigations, the staff member who had filed the complaint against Moipolai withdrew her complaint stating that Moipolai never sexually harassed her.

She went further to claim that she was blackmailed into filing the complaint against Moipolai. The Sunday Standard has in its possession a letter from Serole and Partners law acting on behalf of the staff member who had filed the complaint against Moipolai. In the letter, the law firm states that their client informed the investigating team that she had withdrawn the complaint.  “surprisingly, the investigating team continued to interrogate her as to why she had decided to withdraw her complaint and the team further informed her that once a complaint has been lodged it cannot be withdrawn. Client instructs us that she was subjected to a lengthy questioning which left her with no option but to engage us.”

Messy mess

The investigation against Moipolai descended into a huge mess. It became so messy that one of the council members who was part of the investigating team threatened to resign. In her e-mail correspondence to other council members she states: I have actually contemplated resigning as issues are becoming people focussed as opposed to us moving the LSB forward as an organisation. I have no issues with the ES and have worked well with him on various issues. I would encourage all colleagues to respect each other’s views; the mudslinging is not bringing us forward. I really believe we need to bury the hatchet and move on.”

In a bid to try and clear the poisoned air, the Chairman of the Law Society Kgalalelo Monthe stated in his e-mail message to other  council members: “ Colleagues, I had warned from the word go that when Council Members go behind the ES (Executive Secretary) and speak to staff directly, there will be a breakdown of order. We are reaping what we sowed and yet we have only 10 months to go.

We took our eyes off the ball and went into find who is bonking who and totally forgot The Strategic Objectives of the LSB. Why are we in Council? At one point I noticed that the Legal Officer was part of a whatsapp group for Council and on demanding that she be taken out, the author of the mail Mr (name withheld) said it is not necessary as there are leaks and he created the Group. This is common cause.

Council Members went into the offices of LSB and raked out all the gossip ahead of our main purposes and objectives and the Council was thereby divided. They brought all that into the Council Chamber as the main focus. And this is why we are here. We threw away all principles of Corporate Governance for expediency and popular appeal to staff including it appears, giving instructions to staff to ignore the instructions of the ES and staff felt there was a higher authority they would defer to.

We should be celebrating the following:

-Motumise judgment

-The acquisition of 2 plots and now we should be raising funds for the building.

-Babueledi Insurance brokers. Both VC and I are yet to do clearance with the police. Will this happen with VC saying he will no longer sign any financial documents for LSB?

And so Mr (name withheld) my colleague, you contributed in no small measure to the chaos that we are going through currently. If we are to proceed as Council at least for the next ten months, Council Members must leave staff issues to ES and if they need to ask ES questions on particular matters that’s fine. We have taken over the role of ES and direct staff from the comfort of our offices! We are no longer a team and we pretend to be working for the interests of LSB. We shall have to disclose our interests before the Meeting of 10th March, 2018. There is nothing wrong in making a declaration earlier. For me it is clear as to what should happen. People that have issues with the ES should not attend the meeting. I will have an obligation to inform the ES about the matter so he decides whether he desires to have the matter decided by the Council as constituted or not so he advises himself.”

Plot thickens 

Following the e-mail message from the Council Chairman, a council member who was accused of influencing a staff member to file the sexual harassment claim against Moipolai wrote a letter stating that she was recusing herself from the meeting to review the renewal of Moipolai’s contract. In a letter prepared by her lawyers, Sekwenyane Legal Practitioners dated 21st February 2018, the council member who was demanding an apology from the staff member who claimed she had influenced her to file a complaint against Moipolai stated that, “meanwhile and pending resolution of this matter, client will recuse herself from discussing any issue that relates to Mr Moipolai least she appears biased, in whatever position she takes in the business of the council.”

Following her recusal, another council member wrote an e-mail message arguing that the Deputy Vice Chairman, Onalethata Kambai should also recuse himself. In the e mail message dated 27th February 2018, the council member states that, “Dear Colleagues 

The recusal of Ms (name withheld) is noted. I also think Vice Chairperson, Mr Kambai should be recused or recuse himself from all matter relating to the Executive Secretary and hereunder are my reasons:

1.  The ES has lodged a complaint against VC and the said complaint is yet to be investigated. This complaint was lodged on the 30 January 2018 and it was tabled at the council meeting held in February 2018. 

2.  One of the issues raised in the complaint relates to ES’s contract of employment, more specifically his salary, where the VC is alleged to have made comments which suggest that the ES has increased his own salary. 

                (a) The second issue raised relates to utterances allegedly made to a staff member which imputes some form of impropriety on the part of the ES.

                (b)  The third issue relates to the alleged VC’s clandestine relationship with members of staff which has resulted in some members of staff undermining the ES.

3.  At the last but one council meeting where the said complaint of the ES was presented to council, the VC indicated (during the closed session where the ES was not present) that he regards this as a political fight and he is going to take the fight to the ES and sue him for defamation. There is a potential perception that any discussions relating to the ES will present such an opportunity, and one with all information may come to such conclusion which may be reasonable in the circumstances.

4.   When council was informed of the letter from Serole & Partners relating to (name withheld) withdrawal of complaint, the VC’s comment on the “whats app group” indicated that he has already convicted the ES of the withdrawn complaint. The following were his exact words “the letter actually confirms that there was an attempt of sexual advancement which is what we don’t want any ES to do to staff”.  

5.  All things been taken into account, facts indicates that Staff at the secretariat routes all their communication through the VC, such communication made to him to the exclusion of other council members. he has indicated at the meeting referred to above that he has received about 18 complaints and had undertaken to circulate the same for the benefit of council, to date council have not received the same. Oral complaints were lodged before to him.” 

Kambai responded on the same day indicating that he would not recuse himself. In his e-mail message to other council members he states that: “This is why I said if it’s about perception everybody will have to recuse themselves had nothing to do with Ms (name withheld)’ letter until I was dragged into it unprovoked clearly to achieve a strategic objective. The issue of interference with staff began when a council member worked with ES to dismiss staff. In the end staff has placed certain facts before us to deal with

A few minutes later, Monthe responded to Kambai’s e-mal stating that, “There is no better way to concede interfering with the office of ES!”

At the time of going to press Moipolai and the law society had still not responded to a Sunday Standard questionnaire.

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